Thursday, March 02, 2006

Book Packaging and Work-for-Hire Writing

I'm going to depart from my planned blog on "The Wal-Mart Effect" to talk about something else that came up today.

Miss Snark had a blog entitled "Work for Hire Versus Advances." A woman suggested that writers would do better to sell their work for a flat fee instead of continuing to operate on the "advance and then royalty" system. I agree with Miss Snark that this premise is nonsense. However, I was a little surprised by the number of people who did not seem to be aware of the "work for hire" world of book packagers. And, even more, the misperceptions about that world.

For those of you not familiar with the term, book packaging refers to those companies that provide a variety of contractual publishing services. If requested to do so, a book packager can provide a writer, editor, artist and even printer in order to bring a book to market.

Jenna Glatzer wrote an article on the subject of book packaging for Writer's Digest Magazine. You can read that article, which is reprinted at She describes book packaging as the "quiet underbelly of the publishing world, [that]...remains an unsaturated market for ambitious freelance writers."

She says that there are "two main reasons for a publishing house to hire a packager: labor-intensive books, and series books." Essentially, some publishers choose to outsource these two types of tasks.

Glatzer also talks about Edward Stratemeyer, describing him as the father of book packaging. Stratemeyer was the genius behind some of the most famous series of books for young people, penned by ghostwriters under his direction. Here is a list of just a few of the series produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate:

Bobbsey Twins (72 volumes, 1904-1979) Laura Lee Hope (pseudonym)
Hardy Boys (190 volumes, 1927-2005) Franklin W. Dixon (pseudonym)
Nancy Drew (175 volumes, 1930-2003) Carolyn Keene (pseudonym)
Tom Swift (40 volumes, 1910-1941) Victor Appleton (pseudonym)

According to Wikipedia, "Stratemeyer pioneered the technique of producing long-running, consistent series of books using a team of freelance authors to write standardized novels, which were published under a pen name owned by his company. Through his Stratemeyer Syndicate, Stratemeyer produced short plot summaries for the novels in each series, which he sent to other writers who completed the story, writing a specified number of pages and chapters."

Although the Stratemeyer Syndicate was among the most successful companies to use ghostwriters to produce books for young people, it was far from the only one. The "Goosebumps" series of horror novellas created by R. L. Stine included sixty-two books published from 1992 to 1997. Many of the later ones were ghostwritten by work-for-hire writers.

Francine Pascal created the "Sweet Valley High" series, which she also farmed out to several ghostwriters. The series began in 1984 and finished in 1998 with over 150 books credited to Pascal.

The advantage of work-for-hire is that it produces revenue for a writer in exchange for completing a specific project, often from an outline. The writer's name is not on the project and the writer forfeits all future rights to the project. However, the income can be very welcome in an uncertain publishing environment. There are writers who supplement their "creative" careers by doing work-for-hire on the side.

Just for fun, I googled "book packagers" and pulled up 251,000 entries in less than a second. There's a whole other world for writers out there, folks.


Caro said...

Also realize that any TV/movie tie-in book such as the Star Treks, Star Wars, CSI, etc. are pretty much under a work-for-hire contract. They pay pretty well (around $25-$50K a book for some), though it's a tough market to crack and they often want people who have a proven track record.

Unknown said...

I worked as editorial director for a small book packager back in the early part of the 2000s. My biggest problem was getting authors and comps to adhere to deadlines we had set in stone with the publishers, in my case McGraw-Hill. Delays set off the domino effect where copyeditors, comps, proofreaders, and printers' schedules were already planned. McG-H had little sense of humor when I had to break it to them that the authors (mostly engineers) or designers weren't finished. Grrr. That was a death knell for the company.